Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Is there really only one way to get a player like Vincent Lecavalier?

From Damien Cox's post-game blog tonight:

The difference in this game? The hands of Vinny Lecavalier, a player the likes of which the Leafs just don't own right now, and won't get without finishing low in the standings and high in next summer's draft.
Regular Cox readers know that he's pushed hard in recent years for the Leafs to tank for a top draft pick. He offers Lecavalier as evidence, rightly pointing out the Vinny a.) is awesome and b.) was a #1 overall pick.

But is it really true that you can only acquire players "the likes of" Lecavalier by picking high in the draft? Let's see.

For sake of argument, let's arbitrarily pick some critera for considering a player to be "like" Vincent Lecavalier. He's 28 years old, and he's averaged an impressive 0.85 points-per-game in his career. That's good for 19th overall among active players, but many of the guys at the top of the list are veterans like Sakic and Selanne who played their prime years in a higher scoring era.

So let's say that players who are "like" Lecavalier are guys within five years of him in age, and who have managed at least 500 career points (hockey-reference's minimum to appear on the career active list) and averaged at least 0.75 ppg.

That ends up being 10 guys that I can find:

Joe Thornton
Acquired: Trade (former #1 pick)

Marian Hossa
Acquired: Trade (former #12 pick)

Jarome Iginla
Acquired: Trade (former #11 pick)

Alex Tanguay
Acquired: Trade (former #12 pick)

Brad Richards
Acquired: Trade (former third round pick)

Marc Savard
Acquired: Free agent (former fourth round pick)

Milan Hejduk
Acquired: Draft (fourth round)

Patrik Elias
Acquired: Draft (second round)

Martin St. Louis
Acquired: Free agent (undrafted)

Scott Gomez
Acquired: Free agent (former #29 pick)

Now obviously the minimum points requirement eliminates guys like Crosby and Ovechkin, and some will say that those are the sort of players Cox means when he refers to guys like Lecavalier. If that's the case, then Cox is telling us that once-in-a-generation franchise players tend to be high draft picks, in which case I thank him for his insight.

But as the chart shows, there are plenty of guys who have produced at a similar rate to Lecavalier, and not a single one of them was a first round pick by their current teams. Only one, Thornton, was a top ten pick at all. The others were mid-first rounders or later, and most of them have played for two or more teams in their career.

Hell, Lecavalier himself was almost traded once, coming so close that the two GMs had drawn up the paperwork. The team that was on the verge of miraculously acquiring him without drafting him? The Leafs.

Now that doesn't mean that high draft picks aren't better than low ones, and it doesn't mean the Leafs should trade their first-rounder for some 40-year-old re-enforcements. Nobody on the planet thinks either of those things.

But it does mean that the idea that top players, even franchise players, can only be acquired by teams who bravely tank their way to a last place finish is just plain wrong.

Trading and free agency are valid pieces of the puzzle, no matter how one-dimensionally folks like Cox want to think about things.


  1. Nails.

    I truly hope Damien reads this.

    DGB, this is the type of stuff I should be reading in my morning paper. Well done, man. Your blog is consistently one of the best, and it's thanks to posts like these.


  2. Excellent post. I would point out that Thornton and Savard are the only two on the list who have not at least made it to the Finals, and half of them have a Cup on the resume'. So clearly it's possible to build a championship contender around these sorts of trades and FA signings.

  3. Here you go again with your "facts" and "logic" and humorous well written posts. Has reading Cox, Berger et al taught you nothing about how to cover the Leafs?

  4. DGB, I emailed this post to Cox.

  5. Great Post....I think Lecavalier is just a fantastic player, as is Thorton.

    When did the Leafs almost get Lecavalier in a trade...and what did that trade look like?

  6. Stephen, it was during the 2001-02 season, when Lecavalier and Torterella were having problems. The Leafs were going to deal Kaberle, Antropov, Hoglund and Boyes.

    Here's an article about it.

  7. What the all-knowing Cox fails to mention is that the Lightning got the pick not by tanking by themselves but by trading for the pick through San Jose and Florida.